New York requires Herculean focus to accomplish even the smallest tasks. Honking cabs, construction, chatty coworkers, and the general inescapable din of life in Manhattan all conspire to prevent you from getting work done. Last week when I found myself in a cozy lounge in the heart of SoHo that I booked for an hour with an app called Breather, I had difficulty concentrating for a new reason: It was almost too quiet.
Breather is billed as an Airbnb for work spaces; in this case, the analogy is fairly apt. The app offers quiet rooms in commercial spaces that you pay to use by the hour. (The "commercial" part also helps Breather escape Airbnb's pesky legal woes.)
In New York, where the app launched last month, the going hourly rate is $25. In the company's hometown of Montreal, rooms are $20 per hour. Breather currently has five spaces in Manhattan, with plans to add more locations each week, including a few in Brooklyn, but the startup's main purpose is providing tranquil spaces in busy places like Midtown and the Flatiron District. The company has its sights set on San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Toronto for future expansion.
A room of your own
These spaces are small, with just enough room for a few people to commandeer a couch, table or desk, and a few chairs for a meeting. If you're booking solo, the couch is an obvious choice for an hour-long nap. You can reserve a room using Breather's iOS app or website for a few hours at a time for intense studying or a planning session. (An Android version of the app is planned, thought there's no time frame on when it will come out.) Tapping on a Breather location in the app will turn up its availability. You can book weeks in advance or on the spot.
There are a few obvious benefits to using Breather instead of your corner Starbucks: Breather's rooms are quiet, buffered from city sounds, and you don't run the risk of annoying everyone nearby. If you care about social niceties like that.
Even big-name actors have booked through Breather for some alone time. "A-list people use this service because it's private," said Breather cofounder and CEO Julien Smith. "They're rehearsing."
Smith wouldn't say who his most high-profile users are, and it would be near impossible to find out. When you book a room on Breather, you don't have to meet an employee in person to get a key or have a doorman accompany you to the right room. When your reservation rolls around, just check in on the app and head straight to your room. You unlock the door with your phone: Breather generates a code for the electronic lock on the door. After you check out, your code is useless. In that way, Breather is a whole lot more convenient than Airbnb.
Smith said the app has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of bookings since launching in New York a few weeks ago.
A little privacy
Of course, there are many less-than-professional purposes a person might want a by-the-hour room for, but Smith said those concerns aren't really rooted in reality.
"It's really a perception issue," Smith said. "We've seen thousands of bookings and we clean after every stay. Someone comes in and checks in on everything. We've done that thousands of times now. Whenever some sort of disruptive service comes out, people think it's gonna be bad because of this--Twitter is a place where you talk about your lunch. Snapchat is nothing but teenagers sexting. But the actual product is much bigger than that."
If the app's cleaning service has reason to suspect any funny business has occurred, Breather will ban the offending user.
"Someone smoked in a room one time, and we banned that user," Smith said. "That literally is the only time that we've ever banned anyone. There's no need. People always perceive that someone else would take advantage of it."
Like the sharing economy's biggest success stories, Uber and Airbnb, Breather has a smooth, easy-to-use app and knows exactly who its core clients are: busy professionals in major cities craving a little quiet time. That niche market might be larger than you'd think, given the success of drop-in desks at coworking spaces across the country and the business lounges offered by Regus. Coworking spaces tend to be cheaper, but less private.
After an hour of working on notes for a story and chatting with coworkers, I finished my coffee and packed up my bag with a twinge of sadness that my office has no quiet spaces of its own. Next time I book a Breather, I'll leave my laptop behind and bring a book instead for some true downtime. For some, $25 is a small price to pay for an hour of peace. For the rest of us, there's good news: Your first hour is free.